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SF to Cambria itinerary questions

London, United...
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SF to Cambria itinerary questions

My husband and I are from the UK and doing our US trip in May. Here is our itinerary so far:

- Day 1: Fly from JFK to SFO. Pick up picnic food and a (convertible YAY!) car at the airport at 2pm. Drive to Point Lobos, prob get there at 4pm. Hike around and eat until sunset. Check in (already booked) B&B in Carmel.

- Day 2: Watch sunrise at Carmel beach (if we can get up early enough!) and leave Carmel at 8:30. Stop at Bixby Bridge and Pfeiffer beach. Early lunch at Nepenthe at 11:30 (to avoid queues) or do McWay Falls before lunch. After that, Ragged Point, Elephant Seal Rockery and Hearst Castle (last tour available on that day is at 3:40pm). Check in (already booked) B&B in Cambria.

- Day 3: Leave Cambria at 8:30 and drive back to SFO. The car is due at 2pm.

Some questions I have:

- Is it realistic to estimate the drive from SFO to Point Lobos about 2 hours (this is according to Google map)? If we get to Point Lobos later than 4pm, is it still worth it to go in that afternoon? Or should we move it to the next morning and skip something else in Day 2? I checked and the sunset time in May in Carmel is about 8pm so I think we still have plenty of time to hike some of Point Lobos.

- Is it safe to park along the Highway so we don't have to pay for parking in the parks?

- We're going to book the Hearst Castle tour at 3:40pm for Day 2. Can we make it there in time for the tour?

- Lastly, can we depend on SatNav to tell us the points of interest in this area? Last time we didn't write where things are in Lake District, England and SatNav failed us a few times. We had to guess if we had reach a point of interest or not and one time couldn't find the way to one of the point of interest (3G signal was sucky, too). Is it the same case along Big Sur?

Thank you for your help. I've learned so much from reading the posts on here.

Grover Beach...
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1. Re: SF to Cambria itinerary questions

"... Is it realistic to estimate the drive from SFO to Point Lobos about 2 hours "...

Not likely. It will probably be closer to 3 hours. You'll be departing SFO just when the afternoon commute traffic starts to ramp up. Suggest you take I-380 West to I-280 South to Highway 85 South to Highway 101 South to Highway 156 West, which merges with Highway 1 north of Monterey. This is the fastest route to Monterey and I-280 will be less congested than taking Highway 101 directly from SFO.

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"...Is it safe to park along the Highway so we don't have to pay for parking in the parks?"....

All the off highway parking near Point Lobos is at a distance from the entrance to the park. You'll have a bit of a walk to get inside the park and then a great deal more once inside. You certainly do NOT want to leave any valuables INSIDE your rental car. Thieves will target any vehicle where they can see your stuff inside (Your convertible's trunk or boot, can only hold so much. Pack lightly). I suggest you just pay to park inside to make the best use of your time. Even IF you arrived at 5 pm, you would still have plenty of daylight, but it would mean a late dinner and check in to your inn.

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"...We're going to book the Hearst Castle tour at 3:40pm for Day 2. Can we make it there in time for the tour?"...

I would book a later tour just to cushion your sightseeing time down the coast. Otherwise, you're going to feel rushed to get down the Big Sur coast and you do NOT want to do that!! The southern end of the drive is where the majority of really tight hairpin turns are located and you can't take those curves fast. Plus, you'll want to stop often to take in the sights, as the driver MUST pay rapt attention to their driving.

I would NOT rely on SatNav for the Big Sur coast. Cell phones don't work there. SatNav won't either.

San Francisco
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2. Re: SF to Cambria itinerary questions

I did the Big Sur drive last month. We left Monterey about 10AM and got to Cambria about 3PM. Had lunch and a browse through the store at Nepenthe and made a lot of vista stops but we didn't stop at McWay Falls or Ragged Point.

I realize you plan on leaving early but I agree with Kibbles not to try to do Hearst the same day.

San Jose, California
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3. Re: SF to Cambria itinerary questions

"Watch sunrise at Carmel beach (if we can get up early enough!) "

Don't forget - Carmel Beach faces due west, so the sun will come up over the hills behind you. And it is often overcast in the mornings on the coast, so sunrise isn't very dramatic then. It just sort of gets gradually lighter until it is light.

And I agree with the others - allow more time for the drive to Point Lobos, but it is still worth it to go, even if you arrive around 5. Also, it is a good idea to pay to park inside Point Lobos. In addition to the security issues with leaving a car full of luggage parked on the highway and the time it will take to walk into the park - if you are going to use the park, it is only fair to pay the fee. Our state park budgets are very tight and they rely heavily on the usage fees paid by visitors.

And a map is always a good idea - GPS/SatNav is ok, but will often direct you to routes that are not the ones you want to take and will fail in rural areas.

London, United...
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4. Re: SF to Cambria itinerary questions

Thank you all so much for the advice. We will adjust the plan accordingly. Definitely will pay for parking to save time and book an evening tour at Hearst Castle. We only have the rental car until 2pm on Day 3 (driving from Cambria back to SFO) so we won't have time to tour Hearst Castle on that day.

@november_moon: You're right! Guess we'll save sunrise watching for the Grand Canyon portion of our trip :)

Again, thank you guys so much! Really appreciate the help.

San Francisco...
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5. Re: SF to Cambria itinerary questions

our national parks and state parks and beaches as well as county beaches are maintained by the authorities -- they are not free. a lot of us pay when we go there and imho so should you.

London, United...
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6. Re: SF to Cambria itinerary questions

They are free for people who walk in, if I read correctly. In our situation, we will have to pay the $10 parking fee twice within 24 hours, once for Point Lobos in Day 1 and once for Julia Pfeiffer Burns state park in Day 2, while these parks have one-day pass but it doesn't apply to us.

San Jose, California
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7. Re: SF to Cambria itinerary questions

Yes, the parks charge by the vehicle, so if you park outside and walk in, you don't have to pay. That is true.

8. Re: SF to Cambria itinerary questions

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